I would like to start with a very special thank you to our wonderful client who agreed to this interview. I appreciate your time and openness to share your perspective on art and collecting through your experiences. Banksy is a great conversation starter but the message I get from this interview is about supporting art and artists from the beginning. Getting involved. And buying the works. The arts are integral to our humanity and the only real way to keep the arts alive is for everyone to get involved. Those who create the art and those who appreciate it.
Erin Salguero, Director of ARTIS PURA
For this interview, I wont be revealing the identity of the collector. Often, art collectors prefer to remain anonymous, for the sake of security and perhaps to keep artists and dealers from hounding them. In this instance, however, it’s possible that the collector may know the true identity of the artist he collects, someone who has concealed his or her identity for the entirety of his or her career.
Now a household name, world famous street artist, filmmaker and activist Banksy sprang from the arts and music scene in Bristol, England. Closely aligned with the Bristol Underground Scene, D&B, Hip Hop, Street Art and graffiti culture, Banksy began to present freehand graffiti artwork in public in the early 90’s as an anti-establishment alternative view to the mainstream. Banksy is now best known for graffiti-art stencil styled work, which has come off the street and onto the gallery walls, commanding hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions around the world.
I met the anonymous collector in a café in South Bank, where, over lunch and a glass of wine, we talked about the ins and outs of collecting street art, and Banksy in particular
First question: Have you met and do you know the true identity of the artist known as Banksy?
Yes, many years ago in the infamous Dragon Bar on Leonard St, in Shoreditch in the east end of London. He used to do a thing called Santa’s Ghetto every year. I went to a very early one there, where he was selling original works for 50 pounds.
Actually, I didn’t know it was Banksy. Although I had heard of him, I had no idea who he actually was, at that time.
I was standing in the Dragon Bar, I had had a few pints and was talking loudly to a group of street artists…I said quite loudly that I thought Banksy was a complete sell out. One guy agreed with me then walked off…The other guys then told me that this guy was actually Banksy. There was nothing conspicuous or special about him, he was just a non descript young white guy, not unlike myself, at the time.
When and how did you first acquire a work by Banksy?
I bought a print called ‘Grannies’ in 2006, from Pictures on Walls his website.
The image is of two sweet old ladies knitting and drinking tea…one is knitting a sweater with a logo saying ‘Punks not Dead’.. What I think Banksy is saying in this piece is that we will always have passion. I felt that this work was softer, somehow, than a lot of his other work. I felt he had shown his heart and his love for what he does. It was an easy purchase. The other day I looked at it and it made me smile. That’s enough for me.
How many Banksy works do you own?
Over the period of time, since I started collecting until now, I have owned between 10 - 15 Banksy's. At this point in time I own 3.
After a while, I began to buy and then sell them. When I saw one I wanted, I’d sell another so that I would able to afford the new one.
Because I collected Banksy’s I was able to buy a house.
So collecting Banksy works has been quite lucrative for you?
Yes, I owned a very special print version ‘the girl with balloon’. This particular edition was originally only released to the inner circle of collectors. I ended up with one of the rarest editions of his most popular images, signed by Banksy. I bought it through a close contact of Banksy’s I’d known for over 10 years…lets just call it a ‘special deal’.
I remember thinking that it was probably worth around $50k…I felt guilty every time I looked at it. At a certain point in time, I felt that I couldn’t legitimately keep it, knowing I needed an extra bedroom for my soon to be born son. So, I knew a gallery owner in L A. and I mentioned to him that I had this special piece.…he asked me “What do you want for it?” I really wasn’t sure, so I asked him to make me an offer. He offered me 80 thousand pounds. So, I bought the house. The moment I sold it…I was blacklisted and ousted from the Banksy ‘inner circle’. I understand why, I do get it…I learned from the experience, I know, I made the choice. Because I did, my family and I now have a garden; we have a house and room for the kids. That was the point at which that particular part of my life was over. This is now. I’m still making deals and collecting but I’m no longer part of that inner circle. But having been there, I now know how it works, what it is. You can’t take that away. I’m not at all bitter, I’ve not been burned. Of course I have some regrets, but this sale isn’t really one. It was simply time.
Do you collect work by any other artists?
Yes, many, predominately street artists, from around the world. One in particular that I like is an Italian artist known as Blu
I have two. My favourite piece hangs in my little boy’s room. I have lots of works, they are connected by common theme, I guess you’d call it an inherent sadness, disappointment and a bucking of the system, a rejection of the mainstream acceptance. I really love the Banksy piece ‘I fought the law’ . In this work, Banksy took a famous image, a photograph (of the shooter of Ronald Reagan being arrested), and replaced the gun with a paintbrush. He made the act of painting into rebellion. What these artists do is look at the world head on…they document the sadness and the alternate reality. I personally consider myself a product of the 70’s and 80’s, of Thatcherism, a period aspiration for those willing to walk over others. It was a rough ride. This perspective is an unconventional view. Banksy doesn’t buy the dream. He tells the alternate truth.
What attracted you to Banksy, in the first place?
Banksy was the first art I was ever attracted to. I remember seeing it on the walls, around the streets of London and in the UK.
He did a piece that started as a white line on the ground. I followed it, it eventually lead to a policeman, leaning down snorting the white line, like it was cocaine. I remember my reaction…ironic laughter and recognition.
At that time, I was pretty broke, but I saw his work everywhere. When I first bought a piece and then started collecting them I didn’t consider it as a financial thing. I related to him, he’s a normal bloke, you wouldn’t recognize him on the street. He has a huge support network and he is incredibly driven. He has a passion for the underdog. I see his work Dismal-Land as his midlife crisis. He’s obviously a family man now. I feel I understand him as a person, a father. I see his angst. He made a fairground out of his angst, all that stuff rang true with me.
How do you feel about the artists’ anonymity factor?
Its not that important. Its important to the gutter press. To a real Banksy fan, it’s a non-factor. He doesn’t have that sort of character, the showman, the performer. He keeps himself in the background, he doesn’t exploit himself. His challenge nowadays is not to get caught on camera. Nowadays he uses scaffolding and a high-vis jacket…so because he looks official, because he can afford to, no one questions him. If a property owner asks ‘what the hell are you doing to my building’ he tells them who he is. He’s just added 100,000 pounds to the building. His anonymity is part of the myth.
His fans see him as a sellout, but in reality, he’s simply a product of the myth.
Where did/do you find the works you collect?
I became pretty good friends with parts of Banksy’s team, the artists around him, the connected gallery owners and then the old school collectors. I’d ask him about what they were doing, where they were, what things that were going on. It developed over time. Then I met an Australian girl, moved to Australia, married her and began doing all of this remotely. I lost touch, to a certain extent.
Do you consider your Banksy collection primarily an investment or is this about something else, for you?
The investment thing is interesting. It certainly didn’t start that way. It was a passion. For a time the money made me feel like my passion had sold out. I’m over that now. My wife, when I first met her, saw the debt I had created on my credit card. She injected funds into my passion. That’s paid off for both of us, in the long run. SoI bought the right art AND married the right woman.
How do you choose a frame for a work that was intended as street art?'
The Banksy prints aren’t really street art; they are intended to be framed. I made the common mistake initially, of making the frames far too flamboyant, of using brightly coloured matts, that sort of thing. The framing detracted from the work, on the wall. I don’t do that at all, any more, I keep the framing elegant and simple, but extremely high quality. I select black or white frames with black or white matting.
Why do you choose to have your collection framed at ARTIS PURA?
Erin is the best framer in Brisbane it’s that simple and definitely the best I’ve used in all my time collecting, not the cheapest, but for quality you need to pay. I’ve used many different framers in the UK and a couple in Sydney. Sheer luck took me to ARTIS PURA. I asked her the difficult questions, as I usually do, expecting to get the same blank stare and lack of understanding. Erin really gets it. She’s legitimate. I’ve always asked for museum glass. Unlike most, Erin knows the difference. Some of the glass I’ve been sold in the past is not what I was told it was. She also has great connections to other top-notch professionals, like her conservator. A tiny crease in an artwork can decrease the value by thousands…but if a confident conservator fixes it, it only costs a few hundred to repair. The trouble is finding someone with the skill and confidence to tackle the problem. Erin has a great network around her.
Where are your artworks displayed?
Everywhere. In the living room, the dining room in the bedrooms…everywhere.
Do people recognize them as original works by Banksy? What is their reaction?
They say ‘Banksy? how cool!’ But it’s usually the name and the reputation that they react to. They often walk straight past the Banksys and react more strongly to other pieces, by other artists. I have a favourite piece, a great original oil, on display in my living room, titled ‘The Death of Knowledge’ by a Spanish street artist. It gets a huge reaction, every time, although its by an artist who isn’t really well known.
Do you intend to purchase more works?
I doubt I will ever stop collecting. It makes me happy when I find pieces I like. I am right now in the process of doing deals with some Banksy works. I thought it was over when I was blacklisted, but in fact it’s not, its just different.
I love it. When I’m looking at my art collection, on my walls, every day. It gives me a real buzz.
When will you know you have enough?
I will never have enough. I’m always interested in what comes next. Who comes next, after Banksy. Im always on the lookout for new works. For the next deal, for that piece that really talks to me.
Do you have a favourite Banksy story or work you’d like to share?
Yes, in 2008, Banksy put on an event in New York, a village pet store. He’s very well known for his anti animal cruelty sentiments. In this pet store, he used animatronics instead of live animals. There were fish fingers swimming around in a tank…a fur coat that was animated and sitting in a tree. Nothing was actually for sale…it was tiny little event, very random, on 7th Avenue. I loved the whole experience, it was just so, so ‘Banksy’. I only heard about it the day before, though the Banksy grapevine. Things were always very tight lipped and low to the ground. When I heard, I said to my wife “I have to go!” She asked me when it was and I said “tomorrow!” It was a 6 hour long flight to New York. I was hoping to have the opportunity to buy something. I arrived with no idea where or when this mystery event would take place. A little later I received an email, went to the address and there was nothing there, just a pet store next to a pub. I didn’t know what was going on, so the mates I had been travelling with went and sat outside the pub. We had been merrily drinking for a while when we noticed a number of highbrow, well-heeled folk turning up, and then suddenly the BBC arrived. We thought that maybe the event was going to be in the pub. The BBC did a live broadcast. I had called in sick to work in London, to go to this event and suddenly I got a call from my brother to say I was live on BBC TV in New York, at a Banksy opening.
Eventually I went into the pet store, by this stage I was fairly drunk and didn’t quite get what was going on, so afterwards, I went along with the crowd to another pub and ended up meeting Anthony Lister , an Australian born street artist…and finished the evening at a party his New York apartment. It was a truly memorable experience!
For more information on collecting street art, you may find this article useful: http://www.christies.com/features/Street-Art-Collecting-Guide-7074-1.aspx
To see some work by some other street artists around the world: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/gallery/global-street-art-concrete-canvas-book
Interviewer - Cassandra Lehman
ARTIS PURA are excited to have Cassandra as a permanent guest blogger. Her experience and knowledge helps to bring a broader more interesting flair to the ARTIS PURA blog
Her previous engagements include: Galleries Co-Ordinator for QCA, Griffith University, Director, Woolloongabba Art Gallery and Senior Consultant - Arts & Events to the Alice Springs Town Council where she authored the Public Art Policy. Cassandra is now working in the private sector as an independent consultant for the visual arts and culture. www.art-consultant.com.au
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